1At the Thicket, we know legislative junkies. So to help you get your daily fix of news and opinion about legislatures and state politics, here's a bipartisan list of some statehouse blogs. Suggestions?
What do a train conductor, an inventor, a jewelry designer, and an Eskimo whaler have in common? They are all part of 2013's new class of freshmen legislators. The group brings a diverse background, a variety of experience, and a good set of skills to their respective statehouses after spending years of service in their communities.
Alaska Representative Benjamin Nageak (D), an Inupiat (Eskimo) from Barrow, is a whaler. He and his fellow shipmates fish the mammal during the spring in a boat made from whale skins. Once caught, they skin the whale and freeze the meat until June when the Eskimo community celebrates a "Nalukataq" or feast. The entire community is invited to partake in the meal and day-long events, including "blanket tossing" using the whale skin.
Karin Housley (R), a newly elected Minnesota senator and her husband, Phil, a former NHL player, are part-owners of the Lumberyard Hockey & Sports Training Facility in Stillwater.
Oklahoma Representative Bobby Cleveland (R), has manufactured all kinds of things including refurbished golf balls. Cleveland is also an inventor, holding two patents and more than 10 trademarks.
Before her leadership service, Georgia's Representative, Valencia Stovall helped with the day-to-day operations for the 1996 Olympic Games, events for the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks and the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Additionally, Stovall helped manage the U2 and Rolling Stones concerts.
Vermont Representative, Cindy Humiston Weed created pinewood toys several years before switching her career to jewelry design. Weed still uses wood products for her pieces; she was featured in 1992's edition of Fine Woodworking's Design Book #6.
Arkansas' Representative Micah Neal (R), is a restaurateur. He worked for years at his family-owned eatery, Neals Café in the famous "pink" building in Springdale. Neals Café was listed in Southern Living in 2004 as one of the best places in the country to eat fried chicken. Their fried pickles also come highly recommended.
Before joining the legislature, Washington's Representative, Gael Tarleton (D), worked for a Fortune 500 company managing two subsidiaries in Russia. She helped lead nuclear waste clean-up in the country and assisted in rebuilding Russia after the fall of communism.
If you know of a legislator with an interesting background or career, please tell us.
The price of gas was 31 cents per
gallon. First-class postage stamps sold for 4 cents. The Dow Jones hit a high
of 734. 183 million people made the United States home. The year was 1961.
It was also the first year Lacey Putney, a native of Bedford County, Virginia, served in the Virginia House of Delegates.
On April 3, 2013, Delegate Putney bid adieu to his colleagues in a stirring floor statement. He served 26 consecutive terms in the Virginia House, a number currently unmatched by any of his House colleagues around the country.
The outgoing chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee worked with 14 governors. He started a Democrat, became an Independent in 1968 and caucused with Republicans in his latter terms. And, while he worked with six Speakers of the House, he had a stint as acting Speaker of the Virginia House in 2002 prior to the election of Bill Howell, the current Speaker.
“When I first came, I was told that the service here would
be a part of my life forever — a very important and rich part of it. I never knew it would be so true,” Putney
said. “I never knew it would be so true,” Putney told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Michael Bird works in NCSL’s Washington, D.C. office as senior federal affairs counsel, and is the NCSL's liaison to the Virginia General Assembly.
The expulsion of a member from a state legislature is a fairly rare event. Last week's expulsion of Steven Brooks as a member of the Nevada Assembly brought the total number of legislators expelled from state legislatures to 19 during the last 50 years. Here's the list:Going back to 1757, our historical list includes another 19 state or colonial legislators expelled before 1963 or a total of 38 throughout American history.
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) speaks with former Mississippi Governor and RNC Chairman Haley Barbour
State legislative leaders from across the country gathered in Washington last week for NCSL’s annual legislative leaders meeting. The meeting began with briefings on sequestration and immigration reform; hot topics in Washington and state capitols.
During lunch on Thursday, leaders heard from former Mississippi Governor and Chairman of the Republican National Committee Haley Barbour. Following Barbour’s talk, the leaders visited Capitol Hill for briefings from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Congressman Luke Messer (R-Ind.), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In the evening on Thursday, legislative leaders heard about deficit reduction efforts in Canada from Tony Clement, President of the Canadian Treasury Board and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.
Speaker William Howell (R-Va.) talking with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
Up next was a discussion on technology and the economy with Michael Powell, former FCC Chairman and current President of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Following Chairman Powell was a question and answer session with David Agnew, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Wisconsin House Speaker Robin Vos (R) introduces Congressman Paul Ryan
Speaker Andy Tobin (R-Ariz.) chats with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Vermont House Majority Leader William Jewett (D) speaking with former Vermont Governor and DNC Chairman Howard Dean
Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell greets Senator Shawn-Michael Malone, President of the Senate, U.S. Virgin Islands (D)
Maine House Majority Leader Seth Berry (D) talking with David Agnew, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs
The first Territorial House of Representatives (1913) met in the Elk's Lodge in downtown Juneau
By Morgan Cullen
Earlier this week the Alaska Legislature celebrated its 100th anniversary. To commemorate this historic occasion the legislature passed a concurrent resolution creating a seven-member “legislative centennial commission” earlier this year. The commission was made up of current lawmakers who are tasked with the role of highlighting the significant and groundbreaking accomplishments of Alaska’s Legislature since 1913.
Commission Chairman, Senator Gary Stevens said the role of the project “ is in every way intended to be an educational exercise, exploring the richness of our history in Alaska, and of the impact our Legislature has had on the making of that history.”
Senator Gary Stevens, Chair of the Alaska Legislative Centennial Commission
The First Territorial Legislature first met on March 3, 1913. It consisted of eight senators and 16 representatives elected from across the territory. They met at the Elks Lodge (now the Rockwell restaurant) in downtown Juneau until the current capitol was completed in 1931.
While Alaska was one of the last states to be granted statehood (an honor it did not receive until 1959) its legislature was often far ahead of its time. In fact, the very first act of the territorial legislature in 1913 gave women the right to vote, long before congress enacted the 19th amendment in 1920. A year later, the territorial legislature continued to shape policy at the national level by passing the Bone Dry Law, a forerunner to the Volstead Act, which implemented the 18th Amendment and established prohibition. And in 1945, it passed the Anti-Discrimination Act, which preceded the Civil Rights Act by nearly 20 years.
Risser was first elected in 1956. He says he remembers when the Legislature was made up entirely of white men.
"There were no females, there were no minorities or diversity. In fact, they didn't even have a woman's john on the legislative floor," he says. "Now it's much more diversified, which is good."
Other changes, he finds, are not so good.
"The Legislature is more polarized than I've ever seen it. There are more straight party-line votes than there have ever been. I can remember when the rurals would fight the urbans or the eastern part of the state would fight the western part or the north would fight south. But now it isn't that way," he says. "Now it's Democrats versus Republicans."
Nevertheless, he has no inclination to call it quits. "It's the most frustrating job in the world, but it keeps the adrenalin going and it gets you up in the morning. You learn something new every day," he says. "You see different people every day."
I've known Sen. Risser for 35 or so of the 57 years that he has served in the Wisconsin Legislature. He was the leader of a memorable NCSL delegation to Israel that I accompanied in the early 1980s. I knew that his father had served in the Legislature and that he is an avid bicycle commuter, but I was not aware that he was a fourth generation legislator. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather served before him, as shown in the photo.
That's a question I get all the time when I speak to groups, both inside and outside of state capitols, about American legislatures. A recent magazine article featuring my categorization of legislatures as "professionalized," "hybrid" and "citizen" has generated several recent inquiries about which type of legislature is better.
I have an answer to this question, but first a few words about terminology. "Full-" and "part-time" are the common phrases that most people use to differentiate the operations of state legislatures. Political scientists have a fancier term, "professionalization," which measures not only the amount of time that legislators spend on the job but also the compensation of legislators and the number of staff working for the legislature. Professionalization is the concept that I have used to create the categories of legislatures.
The concept of legislative professionalization is designed to measure the capacity of legislatures and legislators to make policy decisions. Capacity, though, does not necessarily mean performance. A legislature with high capacity can perform poorly (Congress being an example), while legislatures with low capacity can perform at high levels.
It's also important to note that the policy-making capacity of a legislature (professionalization) is only one value among others that legislators and voters may set store by when they make decisions about the resources that they provide to their state legislature. One value that might conflict with increasing the capacity of legislatures might be public views about the appropriate scale and cost of state government. A second might be a desire to be governed by citizen legislators who spend most of their lives living and working in their local communities. Like the legendary Roman leader Cincinnatus, who left his farm to fight a war but returned to the plow when the war was over, citizen legislators go to the capitol to legislate for a few months but then return to their home towns.
All of this leads to my answer to the question: Neither one is necessarily better. I believe that the principal goal should be to have a legislature that is an independent and coequal branch of government, able effectively to represent the views of constituents, pass laws, and balance the power of the executive. Different legislatures with different levels of professionalization can accomplish these goals. Each state needs to choose the level of resources (compensation, time and staff) that allows them to meet these goals, within the context of their state's culture, size, complexity and values about government.
I will say, though, that the larger population states that are more socially complex and have necessarily large executive branches are more likely to need greater capacity in order for their legislature to be an independent and coequal branch of government. In other words, to represent its fairly homogenous population of half a million people effectively, Wyoming may not need California's full-time legislators, who are paid close to $100,000 a year and have a staff of more than 2,000 to help govern a state of 38 million people. But Wyoming's citizen legislature, which meets two months of the year, pays its members $12,000 and has a staff of about 40, would find it hard effectively to balance the power of the executive in a state as large and complex as California.
And indeed, that is the path that most states have taken in building the capacity of their legislatures. With only a very few exceptions the states that have the most professionalized legislatures have the largest populations, and the citizen legislatures are in the smallest population states. The hybrid legislatures are in-between, mostly in the medium population states.
Building on a table that appears in Peverill
Squire and Gary Moncrief, State Legislatures Today: Politics Under the Domes, here is a summary of the implications of the two extreme levels of professionalization, incorporating some values other than policymaking capacity. The middle column of this table is adapted from Squire and Moncrief's book; the right column is my summary of qualities associated with citizen legislatures (click to enlarge).
The proportion of former state legislators serving in the 113th Congress is 49 percent, according to a story in this month's State Legislatures magazine. That number has been consistently within one or two points of 50 percent for decades. Here are the top five 10 and bottom five 10 states in sending former legislators to Congress (House and Senate combined):
Here's the complete list of former members of state legisalatures serving in Congress compiled by Michael Bird and Jeff Hurley in NCSL's Washington office.
Continuing a trend that I first noted in "An Unexpected Benefit of Term Limits" in The Thicket in 2009, state legislatures with term limits send a higher proportion of former members to Congress than do non-term-limited legislatures: an average of 57 percent in the 15 term-limited states compared to 48 percent in all of the others.
Here's what I said (corrected) about the reasons for this differential in 2009:
The reason for this connection between term limits and legislators
moving to Congress is not complicated. Legislators in term-limited
states who want to continue a political career will constantly watch
opportunities to run for other offices and will be more willing to take
risks (giving up their term-limited legislative seat) than will
legislators in non-term-limited states.
For those of us who think that service in state legislatures is
valuable training for Congress, this is an unexpected benefit of state
legislative serviceterm limits.
Each year, NCSL's Trust for Representative Democracy collects information about how many legislators participated in the America's Legislators Back to School Program the
previous school year. The program encourages legislators to visit
classrooms and bring civics to life for students all across the country.
About 1,200 state lawmakers participated in the program. The charts
below show the top legislatures and chambers for 2010-11.
Congratulations to the Massachusetts Utah and Virginia senates for obtaining 100 percent participation! tied for the state with the highest percentage of
legislators participating. Utah and Virgnia topped the list when both chambers are combined.